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PFBC changing trout opener again, stocking procedures

Both the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and the Pennsylvania Game Commission held their first meetings of 2021 last week. These events were held virtually via the Internet and a few noteworthy items surfaced from both agencies. I’ll start with the PFBC.

I’m sure most anglers remember the surprise last April when in a reaction to the COVID-19 situation the PFBC opened the trout season almost two weeks early in most of the state by sending out an email on Tuesday, April 7 saying that trout season had opened at 8 a.m. that morning.

A few days later the agency announced a consolidated trout stocking schedule for the rest of the spring that would be conducted entirely by PFBC personnel with no help from public volunteers and none of the dates or locations of those stockings would be made available to the public. Just a few of the long litany of government sanctions we all endured throughout last year.

For those of us who have already purchased our 2021 fishing license and consulted the Pennsylvania Fishing Summary booklet that comes with it, things appeared to be on track for returning to a normal trout opener this year. The handbook listed the southeast regional opening day as April 3 with a Mentored Youth Trout Day on March 27 and the statewide opening day on April 17 with a Mentored Youth Trout Day on April 10.

That situation has been changed. Now, the first day of trout season for the entire state will be April 3 with a statewide Mentored Youth Trout Day on March 27. And because the mentored youth days were canceled last year, all Voluntary Youth Fishing Licenses that were purchased last season remain valid and will be honored during the 2021 season.

By moving up the opening day by two weeks for most of the state, preseason trout stocking will begin on February 15 this year. Because of this change, all streams designated as Stocked Trout Waters will be closed to angling from Feb. 15 until 8 a.m. April 3. Normally, Stocked Trout Waters close to fishing from March 1 until the opening of trout season. To provide for some additional fishing opportunities this year, lakes, reservoirs, and ponds that are stocked with trout during the preseason will be open to catch-and-release fishing before April 3, but no trout may be harvested until the statewide opening day or the Mentored Youth Trout Day.

The PFBC will be allowing limited public volunteer opportunities to assist with trout stocking efforts in 2021. Volunteers will be recruited from an existing pool of individuals who have traditionally assisted with float stocking and bucket carrying organized through local conservation organizations, schools, and other groups.

All volunteers selected will be required to wear personal protective gear, including masks and gloves, and practice social distancing while participating in stocking operations. Unsolicited “walk on” stocking volunteers from the general public will not be permitted to assist with stocking. Trout stocking dates and locations will be provided this year on the PFBC website (fishandboat.com) and FishBoatPA mobile app beginning on February 1.

Up at the other end of Elmerton Avenue, the January Game Commission meeting typically deals with the proposed hunting seasons and other regulations for this fall. On Jan. 23, the Board of Game Commissioners gave preliminary approval to a proposal that would allow a concurrent antlered and antlerless deer season in all Wildlife Management Units during the entire firearms deer season. Most WMUs in our area had expanded last year to concurrent antlered and antlerless hunting for the entire two weeks of the firearms deer season because of the presence of chronic wasting disease throughout the region.

Expanding the concurrent firearms season statewide is intended to provide more opportunity for hunters to harvest antlerless deer, not to increase the overall antlerless harvest, which is controlled antlerless license allocations. If the proposal for concurrent seasons is approved by the board at the April meeting, the antlerless license allocation will be reduced accordingly to reflect the additional days of hunting opportunities.

The three days Sunday hunting will continue this year with a proposal to allow the hunting of other species of small game and furbearers on the Sundays during the archery deer and firearms bear seasons, November 14 and 21. Migratory game birds and turkeys are not included in these expanded Sunday hunting opportunities.

A proposal to eliminate the use of centerfire and rimfire rifles for fall turkey hunting was also given preliminary approval. Turkey populations currently are indicated as declining in 15 of the state’s 23 WMUs. Surveys also indicate that 33 percent of fall turkeys are taken with rifles while only 14 percent of fall turkey hunters use rifles.

Eliminating rifles for fall turkey hunting is estimated to reduce the fall turkey harvest by 20 percent. According to Game Commission wildlife managers, the other alternative for managing those declining turkey numbers is to reduce the length of fall hunting seasons. The proposed fall turkey season in WMUs 4D and 4A where in usually hunt is just one week this year. Can’t get much shorter than that.

I find this bit of news mildly upsetting. As I recall, it was just a decade or so ago we were celebrating all-time high turkey numbers in most parts of Pennsylvania. And those numbers grew over decades of when we had significantly higher numbers of hunters compared to now.

I also find it disappointing that during the period of wild turkey decline that we made the spring turkey season a month long, added a youth turkey season, offered a special spring turkey license for a second bird (that costs more than a general hunting license) and expanded the second half of the spring season to all-day hunting. Are all those gobblers really just “excess baggage”?

Are we managing our turkeys like headed down the same path as ringneck pheasants and ruffed grouse? I hope not.

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